Natural Resources, Tourism and Land Cluster’s parliamentary committee last week quizzed mining ministry’s Principal Secretary and Commissioner over protracted community grievances levelled against diamond miner in Kolo, Mafeteng district.
Amid the inquiry, the committee urged the responsible officials to ensure agreements between the communities and the mining companies are honoured.
The Committee’s chairperson, Kimetso Mathaba said the community’s complaints are that the mine, Reskol Diamond Mining mines diamonds in their backyards without prior notice or consultations and has failed to honour commitment to compensate villagers over cracked and near collapse houses.
Mathaba, a leader and legislator of the National Independent Party said the community and Reskol relations have deteriorated over a long time and the officials must explain why the community grievances had not been addressed.
Mathaba told the mining ministry principal secretary and commissioner of mines it must be clear who should be held accountable when mines do not deliver on promises made to community.
He also noted some of the community concerns were regarding the mines protracted failure to relocate households that were cracking and near collapse and endangering lives of residents due to blasting work at the mine.
He noted the community is also irate due to the dubious history of Reskol whose shareholders changes company names and exploiting the community’s precious resources without honouring any agreements as they change company names.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNN Centre) learned the mine was previously operated by a Johannesburg, South Africa based mining company named Thabex Limited.
Thabex worked the Kolo mine before it allegedly had financial problems and was liquidated and then another emerged, Angel Diamonds, which appeared to be a subsidiary of the liquidated Thabex.
Angel Diamonds followed the same fate as its predecessor and was liquidated and Reskol was formed.
Now Reskol, with other investors, with Thabex that mutated into Angel owners being non-executive partners, continued mining operations in Kolo.
Batla Minerals is now the shareholders in Reskol and have inherited a long list of unfulfilled promises to the Kolo communities.
While appearing before the parliamentary committee the Commissioner of Mines Pheello Tjatja, said RESKOL started its operations in 2016, but they were halted for 4 months as they wanted to change the agreements.
This Tjatja said was because “the first thing they said was that they would relocate about 7 people who lived very close to the mine before they could start, they had said they were not going to do any blasting”.
Tjatja further told the committee the Ministry agreed with the mine that they must have a relocation action plan which among other things should include fixing roads for the community and water access.
It is understood that the mine uses community borehole taps erected before the mine could exist.
“They worked on trial basis for some time and unfortunately a lot of old graves were exhumed which were of about 28 persons. After the discovery they stopped the trial mining, which was set for two years” Tjatja said.
The MNN Centre understands some diamonds were discovered from the mine, but Tjatja argued they were not of good quality and did not even sell much in the market.
Among the complaints of the people of Kolo is Reskol’s lack of consultation in extending its fenced area that has encroached into villagers’ yards.
The fencing is said to have extended Reskol’s land beyond its leased site as some part of the land close to the mine was for the community’s livestock grazing.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy legislator Motlalepula Sello whose home is also Kolo and is a member of the committee, highlighted his concerns over the lack of engagements the mine seems to have with his fellow residents of Kolo.
Sello said he does not “understand why it is difficult for the mine to engage with the village chief or committee that can be formed by some of the villagers on behalf of the community”.
For his part, ministry of mining principal secretary Tšokolo Maina said the ministry heard that “there was a difficulty for the chief to work on such issues because there is no committee that works on behalf of the community and but he knows that those are some of the complaints from the villagers”.
Tjatja pointed out that some of the issues the community’s grumbles about include delayed payments on relocation of graves by the mine but following the ministry’s intervention they were assured by Reskol that compensation had been made to the community members amid complaints.
“On water and electricity, it was agreed that the mine will bring closer to the community the electricity grid so that each and every one of the community members can connect it from nearer to their homes.
“That was one of the mine’s contribution towards the community upliftment programs for mining diamonds in their area” Tjatja told the committee.
Lethusang Kompi, a member of the committee argued whether the mine “did prospecting before operating because if they did, they would have known that there were graves there”.
Kompi said the exhumation of bodies by the mine left much to be desired as there were still no relocation of a graveyard near the mine even after the discovery of bodies during mining activities.
In response, Tjatja informed the committee that before the lease was authorised by the ministry, there was an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was done by Mafatle Consultancy and “it showed that the consultations were done but I cannot say for sure what happened since I was not working in the ministry then.”
Tjatja said before Reskol’s lease was granted, community elders were consulted to pinpoint where the graveyards were located but since some are very old “it made it difficult for them to be identified because there are no machines that can inspect underground”.
Mathaba told the ministry officials that agreements between mines and communities need to be taken seriously and “also there has to be a clear policy that stipulates who should be held accountable when distractions happen on people’s properties”.